I am the fifth out of six children; technically, the fifth out of seven since my little brother, Robert, died just a few hours after his birth. I was 18 months old at the time of his death. From my perspective, there were two sets of kids in our family: the older kids: Leslie, John and Jim, who were 11, 9 and 8 years older than me, and the younger kids: George, me, and my little brother Sam. George was 3 years older than me, and Sam five years younger. This makes me a middle child of the second group, or the baby girl if you take the family as a whole. These distinctions make a difference when considering birth order.
As the baby girl, there were some distinct advantages. I was the baby girl after three boys and 11 years after my only sister was born. This made me the apple of my dad’s eye, for one thing, which was a lovely position to have. He never let a day go by without letting me know that he loved me, perhaps because he was fifty when I was born and recognized that life was short and it was important to let those around you know how special they were. Also, my mother was clearly happy to have a little girl around again, as evidenced by the amount of time I spent snuggled up next to her in bed, reading. I realize now as a mother myself that having a little 18-month-old to cuddle after the loss of a premature newborn must have brought great solace at that very difficult time. So, my parents were happy I was around. My siblings seemed glad, too. My brothers and sister tended to me and played with me and also demanded lots of personal “chores” from me like, “Len, run get me a glass of water,” or “Len, you aren’t going to eat all that cake, are you?” But, overall, they were never overly mean and I knew that I was loved by all of them. So, of course, I must say I am thankful for that.
As the middle child, I have all the classic characteristics. I am a peacemaker, a negotiator, a risk-taker and a trailblazer. I was the one in the family that might say, “Let’s go ask Daddy. He’s more likely to let us go than Mama.” I was also the one who was more conscientious when it came to work. George was notorious for slacking on dish washing – just running cold water with the sprayer over the dirty dishes and putting them in the drainer. He knew, of course, that I would take all the dishes back out and wash them properly since I was scared to death we’d get in trouble. Also, I have tended to err on the side of adventure versus pure safety. I traveled all through Europe alone when I was 19, a feat that I would be hesitant to repeat today. Also, I went from working as a licensed psychotherapist to an antique dealer to a writer and private writing teacher over the course of my adult life.
Also, of course, I have the less than desirable aspects of middle children. I tend to feel a little insecure about my self-worth since I am from such a pack of siblings. I am not the smartest or the prettiest in my family and those facts have followed me over the years. Also, I am not a huge boat-rocker and I have had to learn to stand up for myself. In a big family, it’s easy to just get swept along with the crowd when it comes to decision time. I also have what feels sometimes like a split personality: an active desire to be around lots of people and an equal need to spend a fair amount of time holed up at home, alone.
One of the major consequences of my big family experience shows itself when I eat something especially good. I always eat the best first because when I was a kid if I waited to eat anything good, one of my brothers inevitably snatched it off my plate and popped it into his mouth. I don’t chew gum anymore because it is plain embarrassing how I behave. I cram every piece of gum in my mouth at once even now since if any of my siblings smelled the scent of gum when I walked in, they wrestled me down and stole the package from my pocket. Alas, I have given up gum chewing so I can operate with a modicum of dignity now that I am in my 60’s.
I certainly believe my birth order has had a major impact on my experience in life. I am very lucky in almost all regards with my placement in my big family. As the baby girl, I received more notice and love than I might have otherwise, and as a middle child, I feel securely bolstered from both older siblings and a younger one.
I can’t even imagine how different I might have been as the oldest or youngest of this pack. My sister, the oldest, earned her Ph.D., and that might have been the route I would have gone. My brother, the youngest, is a free-spirited musician who has evolved into a savvy businessman. Perhaps I would be a bit more free-spirited. Alas, I am happy where I fell. Growing up in a loving family was the best part, and I am well aware that many people do not have that same luck. So, I am grateful, pure and simple. Of course, that’s the peacemaker in me…
Yes, as I said, I am a middle child.